Last year, we dedicated the month of October to Halloween themed Doctor Who episodes. I have to tell you: I love Halloween. In fact, I love the whole month of October. I’m what Ray Bradbury called one of the October people. This year will be a little different here in the Junkyard. I haven’t given up on the Top of the Docs articles, but rather than put one out every Tuesday and Thursday, they will be once a week through October so we can talk about something aimed at Halloween. And we’ll start with this…
When we started the Six Degrees of Who articles, we were often finding an actor that linked back to Doctor Who, but from right out the gate, I felt there was more to it than the stars. Six Degrees could connect ideas; those linking threads that were important to Doctor Who and some other series. So for the first of the October Thursdays, I thought we’d talk about a classic that was just announced to be returning in 2019. Susan once explained to Ian Chesterton that doing an equation without the fourth and fifth dimensions couldn’t work. But what is that fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man?
I am writing this on October 2nd 2018. On this very day in 1959, The Twilight Zone came to our screens for the first time. And it’s coming back!
The TARDIS has taken us on many journeys, introducing us to those wondrous lands whose boundaries are that of imagination. But Rod Serling brought us there first. This isn’t to take away from our favorite time traveler, but it is acknowledgement that some classics got there first. Much like the Zone, Doctor Who often dealt with a middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition. The time is perfect to go back to that type of storytelling. And just like the Doctor’s TARDIS key, we unlock this door with the key of imagination.
The original Twilight Zone ran for 5 seasons. It was an anthology unlike anything else on television at the time and starred some of the most recognized names in Hollywood. We got to see William Shatner fighting with a thing on the wing of a plane in Nightmare at 20,000 feet and trying to escape a diner in Nick of Time. Telly Savalas couldn’t quite get over the Living Doll, Talking Tina. Robert Redford was convinced there was Nothing in the Dark and even Burt Reynolds tries to be true to himself with The Bard. Before he was Spock, Leonard Nimoy had to show A Quality of Mercy while George Takei didn’t have to go to Farpoint station for The Encounter and James Doohan entered the Valley of the Shadow where technology played a part in a peaceful little town. Batman’s Penguin, Burgess Meredith just wanted to read if he only had Time Enough at Last. And Cornelius, from Planet of the Apes, Roddy McDowall found out that People are Alike All Over.
But it wasn’t just the guest stars, of which we’ve barely scratched the surface. In The Bewitching Pool two children find themselves transported to another land after jumping into a magical swimming pool. No doubt part of a Dalek plan… A woman is stalked by a mysterious stranger who happens to know where she’s going in The Hitchhiker. He was a white guy, but not as white as The Watcher! And the Master of the Land of Fiction had nothing on a little boy determined to prove that It’s a Good Life, even if it means creating a fiction for himself and everyone he lives with. In an operating room we learn that beauty really is in The Eye of the Beholder. Just how many times has the Doctor told us that very thing? And no headcrabs are required to put us into a dream in Shadow Play, where one man insists that his death row sentence will just reset once they throw the switch. And who said you need a box under the Christmas Tree, when you can fall through the wall in your bedroom to enter another dimension to become a Little Girl Lost? And the only thing keeping Amazon alive at the end of the universe is that the Futurekind keep ordering the book To Serve Man! And The Howling Man probably gave the Master some food for thought when he tried to broker a deal with Azal.
With 156 episodes it’s impossible to cover all the amazing, wonderful, eerie, terrifying, all-around-great stories the series gave us. Not all of the stories are science fiction but the bulk of them are. Many teeter on the brink of horror, some are outright disturbing and sadly periodically some are forgettable. But the only thing obsolete about it is The Obsolete Man! The show is perfect viewing for Halloween and the month of October. Most of the series consisted of 30 minute episodes, with season 4 trying to tell 1-hour long stories. By and large, the shorter ones were better, but most of them are of some interest. With a new series of The Twilight Zone coming in 2019, this October is the perfect time to get familiar with a show that will blow your mind.
Welcome… you’ve just crossed over into the Twilight Zone… ML
My first intro to the Twilight Zone wasn’t a good one, namely the 1983 movie, I’m sorry to say. But the classic series, beginning with The Little People, made great amends for that. So much so that The Little People inspired me to make my own audio remakes of it, which weren’t professional but fun to make. With the recent impacts of Black Mirror and Electric Dreams, it’s understandable that they’d want to bring the Twilight Zone back. The most recent endeavor hosted by Forest Whitaker only lasted one season, even with an impressive remake of the TZ’s most groundbreaking classic: Eye Of The Beholder. The New Twilight Zone from the 80s didn’t impress me as much, although I was impressed by one of its classic-TZ reinventions because it featured Helen Mirren who always makes a profound impression.
The Twilight Zone proved that both SF and anthology classics can succeed by openly challenging our perspectives, whether it’s twist endings, which the TZ could regularly make work via reversals of perspective in variable episodes (so much so that I never found them stagnating), or simply for making its audience think. The guest stars can make the episodes work, even the most down-to-basics episodes like Two thanks to Elizabeth Montgomery and Charles Bronson.
A few years ago I listened to one of the Radio Dramas remakes of one of my favorite TZ classics which was The Last Flight (all those TZs were hosted by Stacy Keach). When I listened to how it dramatically ended, the same as the classic TZ version, but more emotionally, there were tears in my eyes. I shared that experience with a counselor/friend who could understand its synchronicity about atonement and redemption. So in that sense I’m intriguing to see what the newest take on the Twilight Zone will have in store in reflection of the times today.
Thank you very much, ML, for making this very thoughtful contribution on the Twilight Zone’s 60th Anniversary. Because the Twilight Zone, alongside Dr. Who, Star Trek, The Outer Limits and The Prisoner, helped to established the most substantial basics for many shows and films. So seeing more TZs is as timely for this generation as seeing more Dr. Who, Star Trek and X-Files.
Thank you too, Rod. 🌎🌌🖖
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One lovely connection between the classic Twilight Zone and the classic Dr. Who is the casting of Jean Marsh (who played companion Sara Kindgom: The Daleks’ Masterplan) during the TZ’s first season as an android woman named Alicia in “The Lonely”, which I first saw when I started buying classic TZ episodes on VHS. Along with the equally fine casting of her costar: Jack Warden as a wrongfully convicted man on a solitary asteroid, this earns my review as one of the TZ’s best.
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